ACW

ACW

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Power of Collections in Generating Blog Traffic: by Trevor Thorn

Image from Lent, Holy Week and Easter Collection
In most of my recent posts to this blog, I have tried to pass on information about my own five-and-a-half years of blogging experience and to highlight some of the simpler ways I have discovered to attract viewings to the site. Here, I describe briefly the way in which ‘Collections’ can be helpful. I describe how I use them on ‘Blogger’ and assume there is a parallel sytem on ‘Wordpress’ (although Wordpress users will have to explore).

It is fairly simple. I use a ‘Page’ in the Blogger ‘New Post’ side menu to create an index of posts with a common theme. Each item listed has a hyperlink to the post itself. Then every original post refers back to this index with a simple final line ‘If you have enjoyed this, you may also enjoy my other poems with an Easter theme (for example). Click here to see the complete Easter collection.’ To some degree, the same can be achieved through tags – but the advantages are that the Pages menu will record the number of hits to that specifically and by using pages, there is the opportunity to describe each item in a collection to steer readers more swiftly to what might particularly be of interest to them. It seems to work.

Let me give you a tangible example. I am currently working on a project of Assembly Friendly and  All-Age songs about God and Science.  That, then is a heading which appears in the top right of my Home page. By Clicking-through, you would get displayed in the left hand column the following (which is the content of the ‘page’ used for this collection).

‘SONGS OF GOD & SCIENCE (Assembly Friendly) 
Bottled Water (Double Iniquity) Tune: Old American Folk Tune with Score.
*NEW Full Moon Rises, Huge and Bright Familiar tune
I’m Making Friends With Science Tune: The Holly & The Ivy
*NEW Sing of Faith and Science - Tune: Sing a Song of Sixpence
The Bible Starts with Parable Tune: Tyrol (Traditional) Score in posting
*NEW We Are Living! We are Living!  Tune: London’s Burning!

More will be added to this selection in Spring 2017.’
(NEW in this context means newly posted within the last two months)

Each Title then leads to the song and each song at the end has a click-through which returns to this index.

Obviously this is a fairly specialist ‘collection’ but among my others are
Lent, Holy Week and Easter
Christmas
Care of The Planet
Poems of Beauty, Science and Faith/ Wonders of Creation

There are other ways of gathering items with a common theme but the beauty of using ‘pages’ in this way is that each hit registers on the page so can be compared with the number of hits for each individual posting.

On my blog, the outcome of using this basis looks like this

Assembly Friendly/ All Age 1303 hits (started late last year)
Lent – Easter 3006 hits  (Started 3 years ago)
Christmas 1814 hits (started 2 years ago)
Care of The Planet 311 hits (started 1 year ago)
Beauty, Science & faith 1463 hits (started 1.5 years ago)

So these account for 7500 of the viewings on my blog and many of these will have lead to a second viewing of the song/ poem itself.  I leave you to think how useful this could be to you if you have not already taken this path and hope it is an idea that is helpful to some.

To go straight from here to concrete examples


Monday, 27 February 2017

Assembling the pieces, by Lucy Mills

In previous More than Writers posts, I've talked about taming the tentacles and using up leftovers.

Today I'm talking about assembling the pieces.

A caveat, first of all - as I'm so intensely working on my book my writing energies are so diminished for 'other stuff' that this blog post may make no sense at all.

You have been warned.

I feel the need to be lyrical about this, so why not write an off-the-cuff sort-of-poem for you?



I hold it in my hand
consider its shape, its colour, its form.
Where does it belong?
I ponder its texture, see where the lines fall -
how big is it? And where does it belong?


There are others like it, still mismatched
I cannot force them in, they still wait for me
to understand them, resolve them, place them
where they belong...


Assembling the pieces
the jigsaw initially
seeming impossible
especially when the picture on the box
has the audacity to keep changing.
Where do they belong?


A moment of satisfaction - a sigh of delight -
as one suddenly clips onto another,
happily joined, making sense
and then another, another
landing where it belongs.


I'm not there yet, there are some pieces
that need reshaping still -
I'm doing the jigsaw but the pieces 
are still rough, as I try to put them together...
to find where they belong.


But when they do - when it finally falls together
the picture now clear to me where it once was blurred
and what I have is not pieces
but a whole -
a work of art -
a completed puzzle -
a book -
I know that, as a writer, I belong.


I hope you enjoyed my unedited poem, written on the spot as I have no time for honing anything else right now!

What metaphors do you use for writing and book creating?


***
Lucy Mills

Lucy's first book, Forgetful Heart: remembering God in a distracted world, was published in 2014 (DLT). Undivided Heart: finding meaning and motivation in Christ will be coming in October 2017. Lucy writes articles, poetry and prayers for various publications and is Editorial Co-ordinator at magnet magazine. www.lucy-mills.com

Lucy on Twitter: @lucymills
Lucy's Facebook page




More than Writer posts in 2017:

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Warning: traces of God



I’m currently writing a series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s. They are about a young, female journalist called Poppy Denby who solves mysteries against the backdrop of the wild, care-free jazz age. She is the daughter of Methodist ministers but, since her move to London, has discovered that not everyone lives by the same moral code. Her aunt is – possibly – gay, her best friend a flapper with a string of suitors, and her boss a hard-drinking gambler. Poppy herself tries to live a moral life, but her real challenge is to live out her faith in the ‘real’ world. Poppy does not seek to change those around her – although she will challenge them when she feels they are being selfish, unkind or unjust – but rather to live out her faith through seeking truth and justice for the victims she encounters in her job.

In the first book, The Jazz Files, we see Poppy wrestling with God because of the death of her brother in WWI. She struggles to reconcile a God of love with all the suffering in the world. It’s a struggle most of us face. In the second book, The Kill Fee, she is so busy with her new job – often having to work on Sundays to meet a deadline – that she does not get around to joining a new church in her new city. Unlike the first book where we see Poppy thinking about faith – or the lack of it – a fair bit, in book 2 she doesn’t have time to think about it until two thirds of the way through where she stops, in one scene, and realises that she simply has no idea how to solve the mystery; or save the person who is in danger. She is at the end of her tether and suddenly remembers God. She turns to Him in an awkward prayer and asks for help, naively reminding Him who she is because it’s been so long since they’ve spoken. For me, this awkward ‘tag-on’ prayer, is authentic. There’ve been times in my life when I’ve been so carried away with life – particularly when it’s going well – that I’ve almost ‘forgotten’ God and have had to brush the cobwebs off my faith.

However, it seems that my view of what it’s like to be a Christian in the ordinary world – which is very much true to my personal experience -  is difficult to grasp for some readers.  I have become used to the critical reviews from very conservative Christians who are offended that I show what they consider sinful behaviour without then 'saving' those characters from their sin. In one case a reviewer announced that she never reads books with gay people in them. Period. And is shocked that they exist in a ‘so-called Christian book’. Note, I never call my books ‘Christian’ and go out of my way to avoid the Christian Fiction label. I want to write books for all readers to enjoy, whether they are people of faith or not. Yet, because they are published by a Christian publisher, Lion Hudson, and distributed by another Christian publisher, Kregel, in the USA, the label, unfortunately, is difficult to shed.

Most Christian readers, however, have felt that Poppy’s faith is naturally woven into the books and my non-Christian readers have not seemed to object to it at all. Some of them, in fact, have said it seems ‘refreshingly real’. So it came as a surprise to me last week when a reviewer castigated The Kill Fee for its Christian content. This reviewer said there had been nothing on the cover or in the marketing that told her it was going to be a ‘Christian book’ (hurrah!) and the style of writing and the characters presented ‘without judgement’ had suggested to her it wasn’t. She said up until the ‘prayer bombshell that came out of nowhere’ any mention of God could be excused as just being ‘normal’ for the period. But then, according to her, I ambushed her with evangelism (a hurried prayer asking God for help). She was shocked and offended and said ‘it looks like Smith is trying to bring Christianity into the mainstream’. She said I had no right to do that and should just ‘stick to writing Christian Fiction’. Well, that’s me told!

Well you know what, I make no apology for my traces of God. I would write the same type of books whether it was for a Christian or a non-Christian publisher (in fact my latest book, Pilate’s Daughter, which has quite a few ‘traces of God’ is published by secular publisher, Endeavour Press). But it just reminded me of how and why ‘Christian Fiction’ developed in the first place, driven from the mainstream where Christian characters or stories of faith were not permitted to exist. I am not ‘trying to evangelise’ as this reviewer suggested, I just want to write books that present faith as a natural part of some people’s lives. This review has reminded me, however, that any public confession of faith is sometimes an offense to people. But that’s their problem, not mine.


Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer and writing lecturer, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She writes across all media, for children and adults. Her mystery novel The Jazz Files, the first in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series (Lion Fiction) was nominated for a CWA Historical Dagger in 2016. The second book, The Kill Fee is out now, and the third is due later this year. Her novel Pilate’s Daughter  a historical love story set in Roman Palestine, is published by Endeavour Press.Her children’s books The Young David Series and the Young Joseph Series  are published by SPCK.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

A Roundabout Journey, by Fiona Lloyd


Given that Lent is almost upon us, I thought I’d start with a Christmas question: How many wise men visited the infant Jesus?

What do you mean, it's not very realistic?


             If you’ve listened to as many Christmas sermons as I have, you’ll know it’s a trick question. Tradition – and countless school nativity plays – tell us there were three, to correspond with the number of gifts brought, but the Bible itself is not specific on this point.

            In 1895, Henry Van Dyke’s story The Other Wise Man was published. It tells of how there were originally four magi, who agreed together to go and seek out the new king. The fourth one, Artaban, arranges to meet his travelling companions at a set time and place, and packs his bag with three precious jewels to offer to the baby. However, he misses his rendezvous, because he stops en route to help a dying man. Undeterred, he races off to Bethlehem, only to find that his friends (and the holy family) have moved on a few days previously. What’s more, Herod is in a foul mood…

            If you want to know how the story ends, you can read it here: http://www.classicreader.com/book/593/1/. But without giving too much away, it’s clear that Artaban’s attempts to find Jesus are continually being thwarted by unforeseen distractions, and it’s only with hindsight that he realises that these interruptions are in fact a part of the search.

This could be a metaphor for my writing...


            So, here’s another question: How well do you cope with interruptions? Personally, I hate being distracted, particularly when I’m in the middle of writing. (Unless it’s a self-imposed distraction, obviously: if I never publish that best-seller, Facebook and Twitter will have some explaining to do.) And I know it’s important to carve out time for my writing, service preparation and so on. But this story reminds me that, if I’m not careful, the obsessive pursuit of my dreams could mean that I miss encountering Jesus in the mundane chaos of everyday life.


Fiona Lloyd works part-time as a music teacher, and serves on the worship leading team at her local church. Fiona self-published a violin tutor book in 2013 and blogs at www.fjlloyd.wordpress.com. You can find her on Twitter at @FionaJLloyd. Fiona is vice-chair of ACW and is married with three grown-up children.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Iwerne me


Ben Jeapes beat me to it. I wrote this post a fortnight or so before now, but in the meantime Ben has posted a helpful and intelligent response to his experience as a camper at Iwerne Minster in the 1980s. I’ve decided to leave my thoughts in place, as they largely corroborate in brief what he says in more detail.


I was a so-called ‘senior camper’ at Iwerne Minster in 1969 and 1970. Without going into the details of the case that has been publicized, I can say straight away that I never encountered anything at Iwerne that might have suggested any kind of abusive behaviour. The set-up was indeed quite hierarchical, as has been pointed out in the media, but 45 or so years ago that would have been normal. Camps had a three-tier structure: the officers, who were clergy, schoolmasters, and undergraduates; the senior campers, who were undergraduates; and the campers, who were schoolboys from the top public schools.

Senior campers all had housekeeping tasks to do which kept us busy from morning to night. We snatched minutes to attend bible studies and prayer meetings and then bolted back to the kitchen to lay tables, make sandwiches, or prepare bottles of diluted orange and lemon squash. There was usually time for us to join in the afternoon activities with the campers and officers: I remember clearing scrub in a field and visiting the Iron Age site at South Cadbury. We had very little other contact with the schoolboys and we slept in a dormitory together.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m sure I learnt a lot from the scriptural teaching, even though specific details have faded into the leafmould of memory. I can still remember many of the rather old-fashioned CSSM choruses which were repeatedly sung. The Christian camaraderie was lovely and the discipline of being part of a hard-working team was very inspiring.

I noted with pleasure that the camps’ name was an anagram for my own surname, but this did not prove to be a portent. Even though I was invited to a special training holiday with a select few officers and senior campers, I knew deep down that the camp officer role wasn’t going to be my path. After my graduation I turned down the chance to attend the 1971 camp in favour of a holiday with my best friend (whom I hoped to evangelize!). I heard no more from Iwerne. Rather like Ben, I found that the intensive study of Scripture inculcated by Iwerne and my university Christian Union actually led me to critique some of the theology that prescribed it.

The teaching of Iwerne was straight conservative evangelicalism. A central tenet of this is that one cannot do anything to make oneself right with God. Any kind of physical mortification would therefore be out of the question. I feel pretty sure that the abuse that has hit the headlines was an alien intrusion from a sadly disordered personality.

But there is another aspect of the ethos which I consider to be the Achilles heel, not only of Iwerne, but also of a great deal of evangelicalism: secrecy. After I graduated I realized that Iwerne operated like a hidden freemasonry, a church within a church. Outsiders, even other evangelicals, were unaware of the hidden network. This instinct for secrecy lies behind the cover-up of the abuse for over thirty years.

Cover-ups go on in church circles all the time, as Anne Atkins observed in her discussion of the Iwerne story, and as I saw when I belonged to an evangelical Anglican church. Perhaps things are better in non-Anglican circles? I do hope so. And I sincerely hope that this crisis will help Christians to be less fearful of admitting the truth about themselves and their churches!

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Things you already knew - by Helen Murray

God loves you.

You know that, don't you?  Of course you do; this is the ACW, after all. We are in the business of writing, yes, but more than that, we're Christians. At some point we've heard about and responded to God's love.

We probably know John 3:16 by heart:
' For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.'  
God loves you. He does. Jesus died to clear the way of sin and rubbish so that we could live in relationship with him, here on earth, and later on for eternity. He loved us so much that when things went badly wrong he organised a rescue plan to remove all obstacles between us. 

He wants us to be together. He enjoys spending time with us. He created us for his pleasure and he didn't want to lose us, even when we turned our back on him and told him we were not interested. 

You get that? Yes? 

So did I. I got it the day I became a Christian at an outdoor meeting on a hot day in June, years ago. I have held that knowledge in my heart ever since, somewhere. At times it's been right there at the surface of my consciousness and at other times deeply buried. Ignored; you might say taken for granted.

As a teenager I stuck 'Smile, God loves you!' stickers on my diaries. Things were easy then; black and white. I was right, other people were wrong. This was the way to live, not that way.  I knew what I wanted to do and be and was pretty sure how to get there.  Then I grew up.

Life is so complicated. Nothing is straightforward. Families and jobs and friendships and money and interpersonal relationships and emotions; they all require constant and energetic navigation on a daily basis, and that's without the occasional disaster, trauma or crisis. Somewhere in the hurry and confusion of living my life, I forgot what it meant to be loved by God. 

The words were still there, but the meaning had faded like the stickers on my journals. 

A few weeks ago, a minister at church gave a blessing my two daughters. One after the other, he placed a hand on their heads and said, 
'May you know, today, that your Father in heaven is absolutely bananas about you!' 
My younger daughter giggled a little and I smiled and hugged them to me, thinking, 'That's nice.'  
It's nice. The love of our heavenly Father is nice. Nice to have. He loves me? That's good, then. 

Here's the thing, though. I was reading the other day about the wonders and miracles that God is still performing here on earth, in our country, among ordinary people like you and me, and I suddenly got it. I had a glimpse of that love; the magnitude of it. The hugeness, the vastness, the unrelenting, amazing, not-giving-up unconditional, breathtaking enormity of it. 

God is love; he invented it. Nobody can love like him. My love, in all its forms, even the strongest fierceness of mother-love, my lioness's love for my cubs, is a pathetic faded thing in comparison with it. 

I have learned, in these last few days, after being a Christian for more than thirty years, some truths that until now I had not fully grasped:
  • There is nothing I have ever done, or can do, to earn God's love. 
  • I don't deserve it, but he covers me in it anyway.
  • I do not have to win his approval because I have it already, and I cannot lose it. 
  • I am utterly secure in his love. 
  • He is delighted with me, right now, right here, just as I am. 
I want you to understand that these are things that I already knew. I don't know what kind of analogy works for you; whether to say that these truths went from head-knowledge to heart-knowledge? Or that something suddenly slipped into place? The penny finally dropped? A divine revelation? 

It doesn't matter what I call it because it's personal and happened to me, and there's no way that I can prevent you from reading these bullet points and saying patiently, 'Yes, I know,' and moving on, wondering what's the big deal. But I think that maybe it's not to do with how long you've been a Christian, whether you're a newcomer to all this God stuff or a seasoned veteran church leader with a thousand hard-hitting sermons under your belt. I think perhaps the Holy Spirit can teach us all something new about the massive, awe-inspiring nature of God's love.

Over the years I have allowed lots of misconceptions and beliefs to climb into my mind and build comfy little nests right there on top of God-loves-me-that's-nice.  

I've known that God loves me, but suspected that in my less loveable moments, his love might falter a bit. That's understandable, isn't it? When I neglect him for days, weeks, months at a time, he might put me on one side to concentrate on his more deserving children. Yes, he always welcomes me back,  but maybe there's a period where he's a bit cool with me for having been so distant. Perhaps I should try harder to get back into his good books? 

Then there's this, a big one for me: somehow, I must find the purpose of my life. I must do the thing I am meant to do, or else God will be disappointed. He's given me gifts, talents, hopes, dreams that must not be wasted. I must try, strive, achieve. And time is slipping away. 

As a would-be writer, these uneasy suspicions have found particularly fertile ground. I watch with awe and admiration as people I know write wonderful things and find meaning and success in all senses of the word; completed novels, readers, publishing contracts, book reviews, validation that they are good at something. I have asked God repeatedly, 'What am I for?' 'What do you want me to do?' and until now, I haven't had a clear answer. 

I've spent my life trying so hard to win approval: fulfil my potential, get it right, make it perfect, and yet here is... rest. 

It's come as an enormous relief. I am loved, perfectly, and for always. Can you believe it? 
There is nothing I can do to earn it, or pay him back for what is a totally undeserved gift. 

I am loved. 

God loves me. 

God loves me.

God loves me.

I am not merely tolerated, or loved as long as I behave a certain way, live up to expectations, perform adequately. I am loved, full stop. Enough. 

If I die this afternoon, with every last one of my plans undone, my Great and Magnificent Work not completed, he will welcome me just the same. He will be waiting with the robe and the ring and the celebration feast and he will pull me to his heart and hold me tight as his precious, dearly loved daughter. All this, whether I write bestsellers or the occasional blog post or nothing at all. 

It is done. It is complete. I am accepted just as I am and loved in a way I cannot possibly fathom by the Creator of the universe, Almighty God, my heavenly Father. He's bananas about me. 

You too. 

Do you know about God's love? Not just the 'God loves me - that's nice,' kind of love, but the size of it?  The reality of it?  

If not, ask him to show you. And then actually wait for him to answer, because I think he really wants you to know.

'May you know, today, that your Father in heaven is absolutely bananas about you!' 

I am praying for you. 





Banana image courtesy of the School Photo Project. The ones in my fruit bowl were less than photogenic.
For free stock images of fruit and much more, click here.




Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

Having spent time as a researcher, church worker and Hand Therapist, Helen is now a full time mum and writer, currently supposed to be working on her first novel. Or at least working on something.

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims, breeds Aloe Vera plants and collects ceramic penguins.

Helen has two blogs: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith, and Badger on the Roof where readers are treated to a blow by blow account of her novel-writing progress, or lack thereof. It's been a while since there was anything to report, but she hasn't given up.

Check back when the kids have left home. 

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01





Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Duet? by Emily Owen


My three year old nephew recently decided he’d like to play the piano, so he climbed up onto the stool and began pressing the keys.
Before long, his one year old brother toddled over to see what was happening. Seeing led to wanting to join in, so he, too, began pressing keys.
But his older brother didn’t like it.
“Tell him to stop it,” he complained to me as he struggled to push his brother’s hands away from the piano keys, “I’m doing this by myself."
“Maybe you could play a duet?” I suggested.
His nose wrinkled: “What’s a duet?”
“It’s where two people play the piano at the same time.”
“Oh. Well what’s it called when only one person plays?”
“That’s called a solo.”
He thought about it, then started pulling his brother up onto the piano stool beside him.
“Come on, we can do a duet.”
And the two of them began bashing away at the keys.
Together.

My nephew didn’t know that it's ok for two people to play the piano at the same time.
But once he did know, he didn’t want to go back to playing solo.

I found this quite challenging.
I thought about my writing and other aspects of my life.
I certainly know that it is ok for two to work at it.
God and me.
Together.

But sometimes I forget that I’m playing a duet in life, not a solo.
I try and do things in my own strength, forgetting to invite God to sit alongside me as I write, or think, or wait, or read, or chat, or whatever it may be.
Like my nephew, I have an ‘I’m doing this by myself’ solo mentality.
And I push God’s hands away from the keys (be they piano or computer or….).
Which means I’m occupied with pushing, not playing or typing.
Which makes it hard to play or type.
But I struggle on.

And then, finally, I remember that God is still standing beside me.
I don't have to play solo.

So I ask God,
“Can we play a duet?”

He sits down next to me.
And, together, we begin to play.

Jesus said, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” John 15: 4






















Tuesday, 21 February 2017

A chip off the rock.........Part 1 by Ruth Johnson

"He shall cry unto Me.  
Thou art my Father, 
my God, 
and the rock of my salvation."
                              Psalm 89:26





‘He’s a chip of the old block’ refers to a person who looks, has the personality or character of their family, particularly their father!  As Christians I think we’d probably all like to be seen as a ‘chip off the rock’ of our heavenly Father, the God of our salvation.

We are each hewn from that rock of salvation, which we know is far more than just being saved from sin and eternal life.  Ps.24 says, we need ‘clean hands and pure hearts’ we should, 'lift up your heads oh you gates…that the King of glory may come in'.  As Christian writers’ I'm sure we all want to use our writing gift  to draw people into a relationship and ongoing knowledge of the goodness and love of our heavenly Father. 

In Revelation it is written that each gate was made of a single pearl and the foundations of the Kingdom are precious stones yet the stone we know as most precious, the diamond, isn’t mentioned.  God’s children are called both living stones and precious. Could we be those missing diamonds?  As if an answer to my question the other day a friend told me of 'seeing' a tree it's branches hanging with diamonds ready to be pick and used.  

The picture above is a diamond in the rock in its raw state. Only when a precious stone is honed at the hands of an expert cutter is  its real value and potential envisaged.  And, much of that stone, will fall on the cutting room floor to make it’s every facet perfect to reflect the light.  

I’m sure I’m not the only writer who spends far more time re-writing and editing than it took to put the original words to paper.  And those who have had professional editing I’m sure will see a similarity of that to the preparation of a precious stone.

I am convinced every experience in life has a purpose, what we see as loss God sees as gain.  I’ve just had a big ‘0’ birthday and I see much of my life on the cutting room floor.   But, as with Joseph I wait on the Lord, and with others I am beginning to perceive God is about to do a new thing, something beyond our imaginations.  I want to be ready to be placed in the setting God has prepared for me. 

Jesus is our gateway, He wants to fill us with His joy for His desire is that all His children should fully reflect His light.  A diamond reflects a rainbow of colours always a reminder that God keeps His promises.  And when His people come together in unity one of those is He will command the blessing and we will become part of that crown of splendour and diadem in the hand of our God.

Monday, 20 February 2017

A quest for simplicity by Sue Russell

Not long ago I came across a thread on social media, emanating from a writer in America, asking her fellow-writers if they preferred complex or simple sentence constructions. It reminded me of a discussion I had many years ago regarding the works of C.S.Lewis. I am an admirer of his and was trying to persuade my friend to read his books, but he complained, 'His sentences are far too long. By the time I get to the end I have to start again.' It's true there are some very long sentences to be found: I came across one recently that contained 78 words. For me, because it was all consummately logical and perfectly punctuated, it presented no problems, despite the proliferation of subordinate clauses. I then remembered a novel I'd been lent while in hospital, which caused increasing irritation such that the story was completely lost. The sentences were almost all very short - some only three or four words. To my eye and inner ear it read in jerky fits and starts.
So perhaps as a reader I do prefer more complex sentences; but as a writer I am trying to do the opposite. The more I write the more I want my writing to be limpid, almost transparent, allowing what is important - the story, and all that it entails - to be clear. I don't always achieve it, because (like many others reading this blog, I suspect) I have had a lifelong love of words. However, more and more now I am aiming for uncluttered simplicity. Against such a background the well-chosen word, phrase, sentence, or telling description, glows more richly.
But is simplicity also an artifice? As writers we are aware that dialogue and inner monologue which sound natural are anything but: they are a construct, a device, and some writers do it better than others. The very gifted poet and novelist Helen Dunmore comes to mind. From the four or five books of hers that I've read I've gleaned an impression of a particularly straightforward, unfussy style. Nevertheless her characters are memorable, her plots gripping and her settings finely evoked. So I'm asking myself, 'Is this something I can learn to do, or to do better?'
A former member of one of the critique groups to which I belong, someone who certainly didn't lack talent and who wrote mainly fantasy and science fiction, was prone to passages that bordered on the purple. In his attempt to dazzle with descriptions of alien scenes he gave me, for one, a kind of indigestion. He achieved the reverse of what he intended; the inner eye was blinded by his prose, which actually got in the way of the scene he was trying to evoke. This taught me something useful: the over-egged pudding makes you sick, and a gilded lily is no longer a lily at all. It may even be that we have divine endorsement for the cause of simplicity and naturalness. 'Look how the wild flowers grow,' says Jesus in Matthew 6. '...I tell you that not even King Solomon with all his wealth had clothes as beautiful as one of these flowers.'







Sue writes as S.L.Russell and has five novels out there in the usual places. A sixth is possibly in a very long pipeline. She lives in Kent and sometimes in France, has a web site www.slrussell.net and blogs at suerussellsblog.blogspot.com

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Body lines, by Veronica Zundel

'Only try to do it yourself and you will learn how arduous is the writer's task. It dims your eyes, makes your back ache, and knits your chest and belly together. It is a terrible ordeal for the whole body.' So wrote Prior Petrus in the early C10th, in the manuscript of Liebana's 'Commentary on the Apocalypse' (no, I don't know who Liebana was either).

Petrus was of course describing (see what I did there?) the life of a scribe, who sat with quill pen and inkwell, bent over a slanting desk, copying the words of others and perhaps creating wonderful illuminations in the margin (as well as grumpy marginal comments about the physical toll of writing). But his words could equally apply to our day of computer screens at the wrong height and dodgy typing chairs liable to collapse at any moment. We often forget, to our cost, that writing involves the body as well as the mind and spirit. Do you get up from your toils every hour or so to stretch your legs and focus on something other than a  screen? I know I don't - when you're in the flow, it's hard to break off, even if you need it.

This last month I've been focusing on the body and its demands and failings in a different way. On Friday 13th January  (how ironic) I was given a diagnosis of cancer in both breasts. This is my second time around with breast cancer; 15 years ago I had what my husband calls 'breast cancer lite'  - the primary tumour was in the armpit rather than the breast, so I only needed surgery to the armpit, radiotherapy and five years of the hormone-blocking drug Tamoxifen.

This time it's more serious, and I'm likely to have at least a single if not a double mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and more hormonal drugs. Meanwhile life has become a round of ultrasound, biopsies, CT scans, MRI scans, a bone scan, and then a repeat of all of them on different areas. I hope in the circumstances you will forgive me for entirely forgetting to write my blog last month - thank you, Wendy, for stepping in.

What has any of this to do with writing? A number of things, I think. First of all, we writers tend to live mostly in our heads, and act surprised when our neglected bodies take their revenge. Second, it is actually quite important to be physically well in order to write - a nagging pain or an inability to sit up could have quite an impact on our creativity. Thirdly, it is always good to remember that humans are physical beings and that God chose to come to us in a physical form in Jesus - without his Incarnation we would have no ministry, no teaching, no healing, no Cross and Resurrection, and dare I say no Holy Spirit.

Lastly, I think some form of suffering, mental or physical, while it may impede our writing, also grounds us and reminds us to be real, and to remember that many of our readers will be suffering too. Why was Paul given his 'thorn in the flesh'? Was it to alert him, whose thoughts tended to run away with him, that he didn't know everything and couldn't control everything?

 

Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for BRF's New Daylight. Veronica used to belong to what was, before it closed, the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and is currently churchless. She also blogs (rather occasionally!) at reversedstandard.com

Saturday, 18 February 2017

On Reading, by Wendy H. Jones


Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body Ecclesiastes 12:12

Our usual blogger can't do the slot today, so I'm stepping in. As well as being a member of Association of Christian Writers, to whom this blog belongs, I am also a member of The Scottish Fellowship of Christian Writers. At a recent Fellowship conference we are asked to write for 5 minutes on the verse above. This was my attempt on the day.

"Times are changing."
"Nothing is the same."
"It wasn't like that in my day."

These words have echoed down the centuries in one shape or another. Whilst they can be applied to any situation, I would venture to say that they are particularly true when talking about literature. Not just books, but the written word in every form. As a child, as I remember, books were treasured. A visit to the library, or a book for a birthday or Christmas, was a wondrous occasion. This was a time of excitement, knowing you would hold that one perfect book in your hands. Everyone waited in anticipation for the next book in a series to appear. 

In some ways that time has mainly gone. The dawn of the digital age and the internet means there are hundreds of thousands of books to be bought at the touch of a button. Reading can be done in a myriad of ways - Kindle, Kobo, iBooks, Wattpad, Audible, and of course paperback and hardback. The poor hardback trails behind, a relic of a bygone era. Information comes at a dizzying rate, through blogs, Websites, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and many other social media platforms. Reading on mobile phones is fast becoming the norm. The growth of mobile phone usage in developing countries is driving the thirst for reading digitally.

Where does that leave us as writers? Well that, my friends, is a story for another day and another blog. If you have any thoughts on this please share in the comments below. 

About the author 

Website

Amazon Author Page

Wendy H. Jones is the author of the best selling DI Shona McKenzie Mystery series of crime novels set in Dundee. Killer's Crew, the fifth booking the series was released in November, 2016. Dagger's Curse, the first book in her Fergus and Flora, Young Adult Mystery series was released on 10th September, 2016. She also has one non fiction book, Power Packed Book Marketing: Sell More Books. She is currently working on the first book in the Cass Claymore Mysteries





Friday, 17 February 2017

The waiting process By Claire Musters



I am in the very fortunate position of having just signed a contract to write the book I’ve had on my heart for quite a few years now. It has been a long journey, though, as it was during 2014 that God first whispered to me: ‘Tell your story. Write it down.’

I began to tentatively write, then approached a publisher I had edited for – and had a great response. I then had … a two-and-a-half year wait! I wrote a little about that last January.

Last autumn I started approaching publishers again. There was a lot of encouragement but so often I heard the words ‘not quite right for our list’. Then, not long before Christmas, I received an offer. I was so excited – but wanted to be sure that I was moving in the right direction. Because God had spoken to me clearly again at a conference in November, saying that I no longer had to strive to get my book noticed – that He was going to champion it now.

Soon after the first offer, an unexpected one came from the original publisher, who I hadn’t even considered approaching again. But the staff had changed, and, when a wonderful ACW friend and colleague mentioned my book idea, they asked to read what I had so far. With a positive response I was left amazed, excited – and wondered how to choose between two offers!

Why am I sharing this? Because of what I’ve learned about waiting well – or not so well! It was at this point that the waiting became excruciating. I may have endured two and a half years previously, but there were still five weeks between the initial offers and finally seeing a contract in my hands. God used that time to expose some huge vulnerabilities in me.

I had moments when I railed at God and found it difficult to accept that He was teaching me something through the waiting. It had been so long already – I just wanted to be able to celebrate and crack on with the writing! But God began revealing things to me, such as how difficult I found it to trust in what I knew He had clearly said to me when the circumstances weren’t matching up.

On one occasion, when I wanted to chase again, everything I read seemed to be telling me not to. On that day, the verse in my devotional was Exodus 14:14, ‘The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.’ The next day, an online devotional included: ‘Initiate nothing. Watch what I can do.’

I also felt God stir me to do some study on resting and being still in Him, but all the while I felt churned up inside. I began to question my ability, the publishers’ interest, whether I had heard God right… I certainly felt the truth of the verse: ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick’ (Proverbs 13:12). I pressed on with the writing, but found it so hard to concentrate.

I took to pouring out my feelings in my journal – and found writing my own psalms really helped. I would tell God how frustrated I was, but then declare my trust in Him and turn to worship. I would ask Him to teach me how to rest in His peace, to learn that His acceptance is the most important.


I was shocked at how bad I was at waiting, having done it for so long! With the end goal in sight I seemed to want to run quicker than God wanted to take me, and it was painful. I’m in no doubt that facing up to my own frustrations and inadequacies, as well as doubts, was part of the process. I do appreciate God was making me more self-aware – although I wish I had made the discovery quicker! ;)

Claire is a freelance writer, speaker and editor, mum to two gorgeous young children, pastor’s wife, worship leader and school governor. Claire’s desire is to help others draw closer to God through her writing, which focuses on authenticity, marriage, parenting, worship, discipleship, issues facing women today etc. Her books include Taking your Spiritual Pulse, CWR’s Insight Into Managing Conflict and Insight Into Self-acceptance, Cover to Cover: David A man after God’s own heart and BRF Foundations21 study guides on Prayer and Jesus. She also writes Bible study notes, and her next co-written book, Insight Into Burnout, is available for pre-order now. Her next book, Taking off the mask: learning to live authentically, is due for publication in November 2017 by Authentic Media. To find out more about her, please visit www.clairemusters.com and @CMusters on Twitter.